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Caught in the Network: The Impact of WhatsApp's 2021 Privacy Policy Update on Users' Messaging App Ecosystems

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/proceedingArticle in proceedingsResearchpeer-review



In January 2021, WhatsApp announced an update to their privacy policy, sparking an outcry that saw millions of users install other messaging apps such as Telegram and Signal. This presented a rare opportunity to study users' experiences when trying to leave the world's most popular communication app. We conducted surveys in February and May with 1525 WhatsApp users from Mexico, Spain, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Over a quarter wanted to switch at least part of their communication to other apps, but 74% of them failed to do so. By May, 27% had increased their use of other apps, and only 16% used WhatsApp less. Beyond network effects, users struggled with making informed choices of alternative apps and with differences in their design and functionality. We suggest messaging interoperability as an approach to alleviate switching costs and discuss implications for HCI research and competition regulation of digital services.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCHI '22 : Proceedings of the 2022 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
Number of pages23
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Publication year2022
Article number104
ISBN (Electronic)9781450391573
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventCHI '22: CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - New Orleans , United States
Duration: 29 Apr 20225 May 2022


ConferenceCHI '22
LandUnited States
ByNew Orleans

    Research areas

  • Competition Regulation, Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC), Ecosystems of Communication Apps, Interoperability, Messaging Apps, Policy, Privacy, WhatsApp

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